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Civil War Soldier's Death Brings About Two Oddities

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Union Colonel Ulric Dahlgren, who had lost his right leg in a battle following the Battle of Gettysburg, was killed in an ill planned raid on March 2, 1864. Dahlgren and his men were stopped by forces led by Confederate General Judson Kilpatrick in an attempt to free the Union prisoners of war held in Richmond prisons.

Dahlgren’s death generated at least two oddities in the war.

The first oddity was a dispatch of papers found on his body seeming to indicate that there was a plot to assassinate Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The papers led to controversy, and became known as the Dahlgren Affair.

The Dahlgren papers contained the following messages written on official Union stationary -- "We hope to release the prisoners from Belle Island first & having seen them fairly started we will cross the James River into Richmond, destroying the bridges after us & exhorting the released prisoners to destroy and burn the hateful City & do not allow the Rebel Leader Davis and his traitorous crew to escape. The City it must be destroyed and Jeff. Davis and Cabinet killed."

The Dahlgren papers riled up the Confederate government who thought the papers authentic, and the Union government, who believed the papers had been doctored. The papers themselves, lost in the conflict, remain controversial today.

The second oddity of Dahlgren’s death seems even stranger than the first. A Confederate organization known as ARMS (Association for the Relief of Maimed Solders) attempted to purchase Colonel Dahlgren’s body. Their intent was to compare Dahlgren’s Yankee manufactured artificial limb with similar limbs build by southern manufacturers.

When Confederate officials denied the ARMS request, ARMS settled for purchasing drawings of Dahlgren’s artificial limb.

The conspiracy involving Colonel Dahlgren’s death is covered in the 1999 book by Duane Schultz “The Dahlgren Affair: Terror and Conspiracy in the Civil War”.

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